The Civil War spanned almost a full four years. From April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865,
the war between the states raged across the country dividing the North and the South. Over
600,000 men died in battles that pitted brother against brother and state against state (“Military,”
Shelby Foote’s Viewpoint Concerning the Civil War
Shelby Foote’s viewpoint concerning the Civil War was unique. As a southerner born in
Greenville, Mississippi, he dedicated himself to bringing to life battles and skirmishes that
greatly changed the face of the nation. While still holding true to his confederate roots, he brings
the perspective of both sides into focus in an attempt to understand the outcome. His 20-year
quest for information concerning the Civil War led him to several discoveries.
Foote looks at the Civil War as a clash of two worlds, both striving to validate
themselves in the eyes of their opponent. With the defeat of the Confederacy, the Union put the
country on a path to commercialization and progress, forever closing a chapter on history. With
the emancipation of the slaves, the Union created a more diverse culture that provided
opportunities to all of the country’s citizens, not a select group.
One of the concepts Foote discusses is before the Civil War took place, each state seemed
to walk its own path with little consideration for those around it. Loosely bound as a nation, the
states looked at themselves as separate from the rest of the group. When the South decided to
cede from the Union, the southern states became more unified, relying on each other for support.
This act of unification forced the northern states to follow suit or subject themselves unwarranted
advances by the southern states.
How the Civil War Defined the United States
The one goal, according to Foote, the Civil War accomplished was to unify all states into
one country. Instead of the United States being described as a multiple collection of states, it was
now defined as one country. The use of “are” no longer applied to the states. Instead, the word
“is” was used to clarify that the many states were now one nation (“Remembering,” 2005).
Both the North and South had defined themselves according to the way of life of their
citizens. The North relied on factories and trade for its livelihood, while people in the South were
mostly farmers and plantation owners. The North was progressively moving to a more
commercialized way of living, which included higher taxes on products that were brought in for
Europe so southerners would be more products from manufacturers in the northern states. The
southern states opted for lower taxes on merchandise and textiles so they could continue to
purchase products from whoever they wanted (“10 surprising,” 2011).
Differences between the North and South
People who lived in the South felt as if they were being forced to follow a way of life
they did not agree with. As the rift between the two sides became bigger, it was obvious to the
South the only way they could retain their way of life was to secede from the North. The
commercialization of the North was leading it into a new way of thinking. Mass production of
goods and commercialized trade allowed workers to leave the backbreaking life of farming and
begin to earn a wage that did not require working from dawn to dusk just to survive.
The Confederate way of life centered on farming and the cultivation of cash crops such
as cotton and sorghum. Huge plantations owned large numbers of slaves who enabled the
plantation owners to tend large plots of land without paying wages to farm hands. The plantation
owners knew if the North took control of the South, their way of life would be over. No longer
would they be able to use free labor to work their fields. Once the slaves were emancipated, they
would be financially devastated.
Reasons behind the North’s Victory
Foote speculates the reason behind the North’s victory was one of wealth and not of
strategy. It is well known the North had the most men, weapons and materials. Their leaders
were weak and had little experience when it came to tactical fighting. The opposite could be said
of the Confederacy. General Robert E. Lee was thought to be one of the best military strategists
of his time, yet his lack of weaponry and adequately trained soldiers left him at a distinct
In many of his books and stories about the Civil War, Foote describes the southern
soldiers as fearless risk-takers. According to some of his tales, the confederate soldiers knew
they were probably going to lose the war, but if they were going to lose, they would go out
fighting for the way of life they loved and cherished. Even though they had fewer men and fewer
supplies, their strong belief in their way of living gave them the motivation to attempt the
While Lee and Jackson proved themselves to be superior leaders than those of the Union,
they could not fight against the overwhelming numbers of soldiers and the abundance of
materials the Union had at its disposal. Even though the North lost more soldiers than the South,
it still dominated the War. In the end, it was a game of numbers and who had the most to lose.
The South had little it could afford to lose, while the North had more than it needed to win.
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